NO BUNGEE JUMPING THIS WEEK, THANKS

Fearless Fantasies – How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?


If I could not feel fear, I’d most likely be dead of doing something stupid and dangerous.

Just as pain warns our bodies that something is wrong, fear warns our brains to be cautious. Excessive or unreasoning fear can cripple us, make us unable to do anything at all. Phobias can eliminate some activities entirely.

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If you are terrified of heights, sky-diving and mountain climbing are likely to be non-starters. If you are scared to death of insects, forget that jungle exploration trip down the Amazon!

But normal fear based on a sensible understanding of a situation keeps us from doing dumb stuff. From climbing that rickety ladder, from diving off the cliff into the rocky, shallow water below.

I think, in the context of my life, I have done many things other’s would have thought dangerous, but which weren’t. They may have been totally stupid and wrong-headed, but not dangerous.

I can’t think of anything I would have done (that I wanted to do) but rejected because of fear. I pretty much did what I wanted. Mostly, it worked out okay.

The stuff that didn’t work out?

Fear wasn’t the issue. It was poor judgment, usually of person or people. Nothing to do with danger and everything to do with street smarts.

 

I CAN’T REMEMBER THE DETAILS

Back of the Queue — Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to starting (an activity, a hobby, or anything else, really)? Tell us about it — and tell us about what’s keeping you from doing it.


I’m totally sure there’s something I planned — intended — to do with my life and didn’t get around to it.  The problem is, I can’t remember what that was.

Did I plan to get famous, write the great American novel? Yeah, that was one thing but you’ll have to forgive me. I think when this was my dream, I was 10, maybe 11. It didn’t even survive into my high school years. I can’t clearly remember If I had anything specific in mine or how I intended to reach my goal. It was a long time ago.

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When I was even younger, I wanted to be the Lone Ranger. Except the job was already taken. I didn’t have a horse, and (minor detail) I was (am) a girl. The details of this “plan” elude me now. I just remember the vague outline. Maybe this plan was never more than a vague outline. I was so young and it was a long time ago.

I was going to travel the world, live in another country, get absorbed in a different culture. Wait … I did that, didn’t I? I remember. A bit fuzzy, but these memories linger long.

I was going to be a working writer. A journalist. Run a newspaper, cover issues and events. Interview important people and see my byline on the front page. It’s coming back to me. I did that, though it was in another country and almost 30 years ago. I’m sure I enjoyed it a great deal, but time has softened the edges. Life does that. I may not remember every detail, but I know it was a great time.

So I’m looking back and I think I lived the life I wanted including pretty much all the stuff I wanted to do. It didn’t always work out exactly as expected, but that’s life. Man plans, God laughs.

Add another old saying: “Too soon old, too late smart.” If I could do it all over again … and believe me, I don’t want to do it again … I’d fine tune my plans a bit and maybe have a more profitable outcome. Because I had a good time. Even the bad times were good. I had fun. I laughed. I worked hard doing things I thought were worth doing. Some of my worst paying jobs were the most fun of all.

So maybe I wouldn’t do it differently after all. Because changing anything might ruin the experiences. The old butterfly effect, you know?

I can’t remember the details anyway, so this is my story. I’m sticking to it.


In real life, you have only two choices. They are fundamental, irrevocable, etched in stone.

You can die young … or you can grow old.

How you grow old — gracefully, grumpily, in good or poor health — isn’t up to you. But these are the only choices. I didn’t die young, so here I am. And I can’t remember a lot of detail, but I remember fun.

Laughter stays with you. I highly recommend not spending a lot of time grieving over what you missed and more time laughing with people you love.

 

FIXING TYPOS IN MY LIFE STORY

Worlds Colliding –There’s work you and home you, café you and hospital you, friends you and strangers you. In this week’s writing challenge, tell us about a time when two or more of your “yous” ran into each other.


When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, blame it on the narrator. It’s all his fault.

Marilyn and BonnieMy narrator remembers everything. He fills in my back story. I’m in charge — technically — but he never shuts up. He is my third person perspective on life. In real time. I’m so accustomed to the nonstop running commentary, I’m not sure how I’d understand my world if my narrator left.

As long as I can remember, my narrator — who remains nameless after all these years — has filled the holes in my story. Adding “he said” and “she said.” Describing action and scenery. “Fictionalizing” reality.

Mr. Narrator is distracting and does not respect “the moment.” No respecter of persons, he can suck the fun out of parties, or if I’m not careful, make me laugh at the worst possible moments.

I’ve also learned from my narrator. Learned to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope and despair.

My job is to live and fix the typos. The narrator takes care of the rest.

WHEN YOU STOP HOLDING YOUR STOMACH IN

In every relationship, there comes a moment when you stop holding your stomach in. Remember? What a relief.

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The day you give up trying to remodel family and friends is like that. One day, you have this huge revelation. Other people aren’t projects! You can’t fix them. Moreover, they don’t want to be fixed because they don’t consider themselves broken.

Talk about relief. Phew.

The world keeps spinning. Turns out, we never had any control over anyone but ourselves — and not much control over ourselves, either.

Welcome to live and let live.

BYE BYE SUPERWOMAN

Originally published last August, I thought this deserved a rerun. For all the women I know who are discovering they are human after all — this is dedicated to you.


Not long ago, I was Superwoman. I knew because so many people said I was, so it had to be true, right? Then life fell apart. I started to miss those leaps over tall buildings. I barked my shins and fell on my head. Finally what was supposed to be a single bound turned into a crash and burn.

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Thus I learned I couldn’t do it all and shouldn’t try. Superwoman wasn’t so super any more.

The thing about having a superwoman image is, it’s flattering. Sweet having folks tell you how much they admire you. Great hearing them say they wish they had your courage. Even if you don’t believe it, it’s nice to hear, isn’t it? The words provide validation. You feel appreciated. Loved, even.

Unfortunately, flattery has strings. Having told you how great you are, your friends feel free to tap into the strength they admire. They know, by some instinct, you will help. It’s a reflex. You see need, you try to help. If you think about it, you almost never say no to anyone. It’s remarkable how popular that makes you.

Since retiring my cape, I’ve learned a few things. Strong people, especially women, attract needy people. It’s as if we have “free help” tattooed on our foreheads. Everyone can see it — except us.

It took me the better part of a lifetime to accept my limits and understand in my heart I don’t have endless reserves. If I fail to pace myself, when those closest to me need me, I have nothing left. It turns out emotional energy is like a bank account. You can’t keep making withdrawals unless you also make deposits.

I can’t fight every battle or support every cause. The first time I said no to someone who asked for help, I felt so guilty I thought I’d drown. Years later, I don’t say no easily or lightly, but I say it. Remarkably, the world keeps turning.

Superwomen are easy to manipulate. Guilt and an over-developed sense of responsibility makes us vulnerable to emotional blackmail. We do the hard things others can and should do for themselves. It’s a trap no less for them than for us. Most people are not too weak to do what they need to do. Strength is not DNA, it’s choice. Most “weak” people are lazy, fearful and don’t want to make hard choices. They don’t look for solutions. They look for help. Big difference.

The Superwoman (along with Batwoman and Superl...

Plenty of people have serious problems including me. I’ve wondered if I have pissed off a malign deity or am working off some terrible Karmic debt. I don’t really know how I’ve gotten through but I’m still here. It wasn’t valor; it was desperation.

People say when things get bad, you find out who your friends are. From the dozens of people I helped over the years, to whom I offered a place to live when they were homeless and much more, when life turned on me, fewer than a handful were anywhere to be found. All the rest went missing.

That was when I put my cape in mothballs. Now I take care of close friends and family. And for the first time, I take care of me.

Thirty-five years ago, my mother asked me a question. She asked: “If you were to list the people in your life that matter, who would be first, second, and third on the list?”

I listed my son, my husband and a close friend.

She said: “You’re wrong. The first name on that list has to be YOU, because if you don’t take care of yourself, no one will. You won’t be able to care for anyone else, either.”

I thought it a strange thing for her to say. Her own life had been taking care of others. She was dying then. I suppose it changed her point of view. She was right, of course. We are responsible for ourselves. Only when we make sure we have what we need can we take care of anyone or anything else.

God — and maybe Superwoman — will have to take care of the rest.

IF YOU WANT IT BAD ENOUGH

The biggest and most damaging lie we tell our kids is this:

“If you want it bad enough and work really hard, you can achieve anything.”

We all bought into it as kids. Even though life has taught us it’s not true, we still try to sell it to younger generations. It’s the worst kind of lie. True enough to sound inspiring, yet deeply misleading.

You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and actual talent. Luck helps too.

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We cannot always achieve what we want because we want it a lot. You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write without a gift for words. Some things can’t be taught. Yet these days, anyone who objects to the lie that hard work alone is always enough is called defeatist — or elitist. I am neither, but I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism became politically incorrect. It’s cruel. It takes people with potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong thing.

When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up whatever because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, it annoys me. I’m a very hard worker, but I’m old enough to know that hard work only takes you so far. I would rather work on something at which I have a chance of succeeding.

Yet we keep hearing the same enticing lie. “Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!” We always read about the successes. What we don’t hear about are the myriad failures, those who tried their hearts out and were defeated. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We ignore real gifts in favor of magical thinking.

Creating a good and satisfying career should be part of everyone’s life plans. First though, we need to figure out what we do well, then focus on it. Hone talent and build a future that works. We need to help our kids do the same. Then network like mad and hope to get the Big Break because the wild card in the mix is always Lady Luck.

Don’t buy a lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be the best they can be. Help them succeed.

VALOR AND SURVIVAL

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasantly uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I hardly deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or you shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.